If “Neverwhere” took place in D.C. instead of London, another world would lurk beneath our national landmarks. Metro trains would be magical affairs with plush velvet armchairs (and they might even arrive on time). Politicians would take orders from talking rats.
Author Neil Gaiman dreamed up just such a netherworld, London Below, for the 1996 BBC miniseries “Neverwhere” and for a slightly altered novelization. The stage adaptation of the book, mounted by the Rorschach Theatre company at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, runs through Sept. 15.
“It’s like an underground, steampunk ‘Peter Pan,’ ” says Grady Weatherford, who plays the Marquis de Carabas, a cunning trickster who abets the heroes (see box). “It’s a self-discovery story told though a mythological lens. It’s dark, it’s dirty, it’s fantastic. It’s pretty, it’s ugly, it’s purple.”
That aesthetic should sound familiar to die-hard Gaiman fans, who will no doubt relish the chance to be immersed in one of his distinctive worlds. Really immersed: The play is staged in-the-round, and some of the action happens on the outskirts of the space, behind the audience.
“I think fans of the book are going to love seeing the attention to detail that there is,” says Sarah Taurchini, who plays Door. There are “little moments that aren’t actually in the script but that we wanted to do justice to the book.”
Playgoers needn’t be acquainted with the original to enjoy the journey, populated by vampiric hussies, fallen angels and great sewer beasts.
“The whole comic-book movie revolution of the last few years — ‘Iron Man,’ ‘The Dark Knight’ — that’s given everyone at least a tacit familiarity with fantasy, magic, the forming-a-team narrative of a journey,” Weatherford says.
Daniel Corey, who plays Richard Mayhew, was a Gaiman virgin prior to auditioning for “Neverwhere.” (And now plans to dig into the author’s backlist.) So he relates to Richard, who “isn’t a fantasy character. He gets thrown into this world.”
Despite its British setting, the story mirrors Washington, Weatherford says. D.C. also has two parallel worlds — “official Washington,” with its busy hive of power players, and the lived-in community that makes up the rest of this town. Albeit minus the talking rats. Rachel Sadon (Express)
“Neverwhere” follows everyman Richard Mayhew as he descends into London Below and helps a noblewoman called Door, who wants to find out who killed her family. They’re pursued by the villainous duo Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, and aided by a mercenary marquis and Hunter, a bodyguard.
‘Neverwhere’: It’s Everywhere!
The original 1996 BBC miniseries can be had on Netflix (DVD only) or iTunes.
BBC Radio 4’s six-part 2013 adaptation, with Benedict Cumberbatch and James McAvoy, will be available Sept. 5 on CD.
Hit up Amazon or the library for Gaiman’s 1996 novel or Vertigo’s 2005 comic-book version.Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE; through Sept. 15, $30; 202-399-7993.